How do overseas students feel? Milked and bilked

Artwork channels ill feeling over high fees and visa changes. David Matthews reports

July 5, 2012

Unflattering portrait: Min Jae Huh is protesting against the end of the post-study work visa using images suggested by other international students

Amid fierce debate between the government and universities over the rights and wrongs of tougher student visa requirements, international students themselves have rarely had their voices heard.

But if an artwork by a South Korean student at the Royal College of Art is anything to go by, they are not feeling loved.

When Min Jae Huh decided to created an artistic protest against the decision to end post-study work visas, she asked other international students to suggest images that symbolise how they are seen in the UK.

Worryingly for UK universities, one respondent to Ms Huh's online call for suggestions - some of which feature in a collage of the results - put forward "criminals". Others suggested "a person in a crate, i.e. a disposable good", "ants", "something miserable" or any image that "plays with erectile dysfunction" - an idea that does not appear to have made it in to the final work.

But the most common theme was that international students felt that they were seen as "walking cash", a "cash machine" or a "cash cow".

On 6 April, the post-study work visa route, which allowed students to work for two years in the UK, was shut, although graduates can still stay if an eligible company sponsors them.

Ms Huh said that she may have to leave the UK two months after she finishes her two-year master's in visual communication later this year, rather than staying on as she had expected when she applied to the degree. She said that although it would be possible to get a new visa if she were hired by a large company, she would rather go freelance. If no such visa were forthcoming, she said, she would seek work in New York, where she has studied previously.

Although the coalition government was not "hostile" to international students, it was using them as a "political target", Ms Huh said. "They just want to reduce the number of foreigners in the UK."

The treatment of international students showed "two sides" to the UK, she said. Universities aggressively recruited students abroad, but then were "really unfriendly at the end".

Ms Huh said that international students were often reluctant to do anything "dramatic" in protest because "they can be kicked out [of an institution] after paying a lot of money".

She also felt it was unfair that international students had to pay three to four times more in tuition fees than UK or European Union students, yet were not allowed to stay and work. Fees in 2012-13 for Ms Huh's course will be £26,900 a year for international students and £9,000 a year for UK or EU students.

The images collated by Ms Huh featured in an exhibition at the Royal College of Art last month. Visitors to the event were invited to write their thoughts about the issue on postcards, which are now being sent to Damian Green, the immigration minister.

• See Min Jae Huh's campaign site at

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